The operative sentence by Clinton is: it is now “incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall and help force his departure.”
This plan for a “transition government” in Syria does not add much to previous plans. But it is an indication that Russia’s patience with Assad will not be unlimited. Clinton has advance the ball ever so slightly, convincing Russia to box Assad in just a little more. With each step, Assad must know that his time to suppress the revolt is limited. Russia is indicating to him that it is not an endless source of support. Assad must deliver.
For the US, this plan does several things. It is not merely designed to shift blame for inaction on Syria from Washington to Moscow – but of course it does do that. It puts the ball in Russia’s court to deliver a transition government. Of course, the opposition has refused to join such a government so long as the Assads remain in power, which makes the blame game a bit messy. This is why Clinton is talking chapter 7 again. She wants to give teeth to need for a transition government, but Russia will not agree to that.
It is good for the US because Washington gains time, which is of the essence. The Syrian opposition is not ready to take over Syria. It needs time to coalesce and mature. A new leadership and civil society is emerging in Syria under the nose of the Assad government, but it is months if not years away from being able to rule Syria effectively. Nation building is an organic process.Washington has discovered that it cannot command cooperation and unity.
If Washington learned anything from Iraq and Libya it is that decapitating an oppressive regime too soon is bad. More people get killed. The death rate goes up and not down. An alternative leadership must be prepared to assume authority. Most importantly, an alternative army needs to be assembled to take control and impose order – an army that is viewed as legitimate and representative by a large proportion of society. No such force existed in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya.
Today, we are seeing the emergence of an alternative source of authority and security in Syria — perhaps. And that is a big “perhaps.” We are not sure that Syria will end up with a unified leadership or that one militia will emerge victorious and supreme. The political factions and one hundred-plus militias that now pepper the Syrian landscape are certainly not capable of imposing order or providing security for Syrians should the Baathist regime crumble or be destroyed.
Will they unite and produce a national leadership in time? It is a reasonable hope. The chances will be much improved if Western powers, Turkey and Saudi Arabia agree on a common leadership. The beauty contest that is now going on among the Syrian opposition forces is natural and healthy. A brutal Darwinian battle is now being waged in Syria not only between the regime and the Free Syrian Army, but also between the multitude of militias that make up the FSA. The leaders who can deliver will rise to the top; those that make mistakes are unlikely to survive. The militias that are better led and can cooperate effectively with the revolutionary councils will rise to the top, pulling the smaller brigades into their ranks. This process of nation building takes time. It is an organic process that cannot be rushed. The West must play for time as the Syrian opposition matures. To destroy the regime before Syrian society is ready to produce an alternative state and leadership is irresponsible. It will not save lives; it will not prevent Islamizaton; it will not serve Western interests; and it will certainly not serve Syrian interests.